June 24, 2019 / 12:07 PM / 2 months ago

Timeline: Thai cave rescue that transfixed the world for 17 days

BANGKOK (Reuters) - On June 23, 2018, a group of 12 boys and their soccer coach went to explore the Tham Luang cave complex in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province, not knowing that rising flood water after heavy rain would soon trap them.

Coach Ekapol Chantawong of the Wild Boars soccer team, speaks with his team, during their return to Tham Luang, as they mark the one-year anniversary of being trapped in the cave, in Chiang Rai, Thailand, June 24, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

It was not until that evening that national park officials determined that the boys, aged 11 to 16, members of a soccer club called the Wild Boars, were missing in the cave and initiated a search that turned into an international effort conducted in the glare of the global media.

Following is a timeline of how the rescue unfolded.

- June 24: British caver Vernon Unsworth, who had explored the Tham Luang cave before, accompanied park rangers into the cave on the first day of the search to find that fast flowing flood waters has block access.

- June 25: The Thai navy sent a team of its elite SEAL unit while pumps were brought in to drain the cave. Rescuers began to search for alternative openings into the cave from the forest-clad hills above.

- June 27: British cave-divers Richard Stanton and John Volanthen, and British caver Robert Harper, arrived to help.

- June 28: Rescue experts from the U.S. military, China, and Laos as well as British, Belgian and Australian cave divers arrive to help.

- June 29: British divers reach a third chamber inside the cave complex, an area which became the forward base for the search operation.

Phra Khuva Boonchum, a prominent Buddhist monk from neighboring Myanmar come to the cave to conduct religious ceremonies. He said he believed the 12 boys and their coach were still alive.

- July 2: British divers John Volanthen and Richard Stanton surfaced in a flooded chamber to find the boys alive, huddled together in the light of the divers’ torches, on a muddy slope.

“How many are you?” Volanthen asked in an encounter captured on video and soon beamed around the world.

“Thirteen? Brilliant!”

They had spent nine nights inside the cave complex, living on very little food and water.

Thousands of volunteers joined what then became an operation to bring them out through flooded tunnels.

- July 3: A Thai army doctor and divers were sent in to the boys with supplies. Outside, the rescuers were devising a plan involving placing oxygen canisters and guiding lines along the route, through muddy waters and surging currents, at times through narrow small passageways.

- July 6: Retired Thai diver Lieutenant-Commander Saman Gunan, 38, died inside a tunnel during preparations for the rescue.

- July 8: The extraction started and the first four boys were brought out and sent to hospital by helicopter in Chiang Rai town.

- July 9: Four more boys were rescued.

- July 10: The last five as well as the Thai army doctor and navy divers who went to stay with the trapped boys were brought out safely.

The Wild Boars were celebrities and have toured the world since then. Films are being made about their ordeal.

The cave has been off-limit to the public.

A bronze statue of Saman Gunan, the diver who died, has been erected near the cave entrance.

Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Robert Birsel

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